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Teleworking from Home

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Nicola Harrison, Project Assistant at Edinburgh Engineering Virtual Library (EEVL), describes her experience of teleworking.

Teleworking involves working at a distance from a usual place of work, often passing work between locations through the Internet. Work may be sent from one office building to another, from a worker's home to a central location, from a telecottage, or from a mobile location such as a salesman's car [1]. Home working is working from one's own home, and can involve anything from hand-knitting jumpers to installing a high technology workshop in your garage. The number of people involved in this section of the workforce is growing, with an estimated 563,000 teleworkers in the UK in 1994, making up 1.21% of the workforce [2]. Several associations, both national and international, have been formed to represent the sector [3,4] and various awareness programmes have been produced [5,6,7].

One key aim of these is to reduce pollution by reducing commuting. The advantages of teleworking to employers are well known [10,11,12,13,14]. Employers save on space, heating and lighting and there is a significant improvement in overall productivity. Skilled employees can be retained by offering them more flexible working conditions, including teleworking. The disadvantages to employers can include difficulties in installing and maintaining appropriate equipment in diverse locations, and the potential for poor communications between employers and teleworkers. Existing managers may resist moves towards teleworking because of the fear that their positions will become redundant.

The advantages to teleworkers themselves include avoiding travelling to work every day. People can live where they choose, without the worry of having to move towns and break up social and family networks in order to find suitable employment. It allows people with disabilities or care responsibilities to work when they would otherwise be unable to. Where teleworking is combined with the freedom to choose ones own work schedule it has the additional advantage that work can be fitted around other activities. Teleworkers can find it useful to spend some time at a central base. This is useful for getting to know colleagues and feeling involved. It also provides an opportunity to make informal suggestions and bounce ideas off people.

Potential problems teleworkers experience can include not having the appropriate facilities available to allow the work to be done. There is also the risk that isolated employees may be exploited in an environment where they can't easily get support from co-workers or unions. Self employed teleworkers are obviously much more vulnerable than those who are employees. A code of practice for companies using teleworkers has been suggested [15].

Teleworking does not suit everyone. Teleworkers have to be able to motivate themselves to work without supervision. It is necessary to have space available at home to set up computers and other equipment. Also, anyone working at home may need to have some ability to deal with equipment faults without the back up which would be available in an office.

I first began teleworking from home in 1993, after previously having had an office-based full-time job since graduating from university. Working from home was originally intended as a temporary measure while I was trying to find a suitable job in the area where I wanted to live. I became a self-employed technical writer for a company based in London, sending and receiving documents and computer discs by post. A year later, when my first child was born, home working became a much more desirable long term option for me, allowing me to be at home with my children while continuing to work in an interesting field. In October 1997, I joined the Edinburgh Engineering Virtual Library (EEVL) [9] as a part-time member of staff working mainly at home. I currently work 14 hours a week at home and a further three hours (one morning), at Heriot-Watt University Library, where the EEVL Project is based.

EEVL has used teleworking since the start of the project in 1995, with subject specialist librarians from five universities around Britain completing templates for inclusion in the EEVL database, using the EEVL HTML template interface. This model was extended in 1996 to include a teleworker (the former Project Officer) in New Zealand, who added and edited database templates very successfully from the University of Waikato. This distributed model does require central co-ordination, and support for the work of the subject librarians is co-ordinated by 2.8 full-time staff working within Heriot-Watt University Library and the Institute for Computer-Based Learning in Edinburgh.

My job at EEVL involves reviewing Internet sites providing engineering information and selecting them for inclusion into the virtual library on the basis of their technical content, quality and availability. I then write descriptions of sites which are to be included, classify them, and also check descriptions and classifications supplied by the specialist librarians. Some new web sites to be considered for inclusion are selected by the Project Officer and details are sent to me by e-mail for reviewing, and others I find for myself, often from the links in the sites I review. I input the reviews onto a standard template through a commercial Internet provider. The main technical task is monthly link checking. Software is run by the EEVL Technical Officer which checks all of the links listed in the Virtual Library (with nearly 3000 records, many of which include more than one link, manual checking is not feasible). Any errors found are printed out and are then checked manually. About half of the three hours I spend in the office is devoted to attending meetings, and much of the rest is currently devoted to receiving training on different aspects of the job. The other members of the EEVL team are librarians or computer specialists, whereas I am an engineer and my background therefore enables me to appraoch the project from a different perspective. An internal e-mail list and a manual of procedures is essential to maintain contact between all parties, as are regular meetings.

Other electronic libraries use the distributed cataloguing model, using staff based at remote sites on a paid or voluntary basis. For example, SOSIG (the Social Science Information Gateway) has a similar system to EEVL and employs a number of section editors, who are academic librarians paid to contribute a few hours a week to the project, and who are responsible for a particular subject area. SOSIG also has European Correspondents, academics or librarians who are invited to contribute resources to SOSIG on an informal basis.[16]

Teleworking as part of a distributed cataloguing model, in EEVL's experience, works very successfully both with a homeworker and workers in other institutions. It is essential that enough time is given to training, and the teleworker feels part of the culture of the project and is involved in project meetings and decision making. EEVL has both volunteers and funded employees contributing resources, and it is important to emphasis that while volunteers have contributed a great deal to the project, no service can rely totally on volunteers.

Teleworking has the potential to help in solving a lot of problems such as traffic congestion and pollution, as well as allowing employers and employees to benefit in various different ways. However, there are drawbacks as well as advantages which need to be evaluated in individual situations.

References

[1] What is Teleworking
http://www.eto.org.uk/faq/defn_tw.htm

[2] Telework: Penetration, Potential and Practice
Korte and Wynne, IOS Press 1996, ISBN 90 5199 255 6

[3] The Telework, Telecottage and Telecentre Association
http://www.tca.org.uk/

[4] International Teleworking Association
http://www.telecommute.org/

[5] Telecommute America!
http://www.att.com/Telecommute_America/

[6]European Community Telework / Telematics Forum. Site was at:
http://www.telework-forum.org/ [link no longer valid].

[7] European Telework Online (ETO)
http://www.eto.org.uk/

[9] Edinburgh Engineering Virtual Library (EEVL)
http://www.eevl.ac.uk/

[10] Berry, Simon. Teleworking today. Computing & Control Engineering Journal, 7 (1), February 1996, 4-10.

[11] Nissen, Richard. Teleworking and the virtual organisation. Computing & Control Engineering Journal, 7 (1), February 1996, 11- 15.

[12] Page, Barnaby. In search of the bottom line. Flexible Working, 2 (2), January 1997, 4-5,22.

[13] Murray, Bill, and Cornford, Dominic. Teleworking in the UK, 1996. Flexible Working, 2 (3), May 1996, 4-7.

[14] Huws, Ursula, Korte, Werner B. and Robinson, Simon. Telework: towards the elusive office. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1990.

[15] Trade Union Perspective: Teleworking - code of practice for employees
http://www.eto.org.uk/faq/faq01.htm

[16] SOSIG
http://sosig.esrc.bris.ac.uk/contact.html

Author Details

Nicola Harrison
Project Assistant at Edinburgh Engineering Virtual Library (EEVL)
EEVL web site: http://www.eevl.ac.uk/

 

Date published: 
19 September 1998

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How to cite this article

Nicola Harrison. "Teleworking from Home". September 1998, Ariadne Issue 17 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue17/teleworking/


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